Technology innovation in the Not-for-Profit sector; disrupting the status quo

Published: 17 February 2015

There has been a buzz in the air for a number of years surrounding digital technologies in the Not-for-Profit sector; the expectations of the market and the need for innovation have gained much attention. Consequently, an event concerning innovation in technology for the Not-for-Profit sector seemed timely and to this end a drinks reception was recently hosted at the Odgers Berndtson  Head Office, by colleagues from the three elements of the group; Odgers Berndtson, Berwick Partners and Odgers Interim. Two speakers were invited to share their experiences and insights into this topic: David Ivell, the CIO for Kew Gardens and Owen Pringle, Director at Therin Consulting and former Director of Digital Communications at Amnesty International.

Digital innovation has provided the opportunity to engage with current and future supporters of organisations in a way which previously would not have been possible. The use of social media, direct marketing and the development of mobile applications has become an expected norm. The question to pose now is what comes next for technology in the Not-for-Profit sector? What new capabilities can be realised to engage individuals, drive benefit and ensure the cause of the organisation is successfully communicated? Furthermore, how would innovations be introduced and delivered?

There is a risk of becoming complacent, simply meeting the expectations of technology capabilities; how can this be advanced to provide real benefit to the organisation? The discussion highlighted the importance of disrupting the status quo; questioning how the organisation approaches technology and consequently explores improvements and innovations. It is essential to consider the benefit provided by technology as integral to the business strategy, rather than as a support system. To enable improvements and innovations to be implemented they need to be given rein to influence the business processes as a whole; ensuring the business level strategy integrates digital to enhance delivery and engagement. A key question posed by Owen Pringle was “If you were launching today, what would your organisation look like?” An interesting angle from which to view your organisation - is it truly leading the way considering the available capabilities?

The insights provided from our speakers were invaluable. David Ivell shared how he developed innovative engagement tools to ensure visitors to Kew Gardens are truly connecting with the experience. In addition to the mobile applications available for the visitors at Kew Gardens, a mobile gaming app reached number 5 in the iTunes top list. This displayed the organisation’s technology capabilities and also increased their profile as a visitor attraction.  The technology capabilities utilised in the Not-for-Profit sector were discussed in detail by Owen Pringle. Technology is available and can provide benefit but it is not necessarily utilised by the sector. Innovations concerning real time communication, business processing through applications and capturing data can allow leaps forward for an organisation as a whole and equip them to compete within a thriving market.

The take home messages from this intriguing talk highlighted the importance of involving technology innovations in the business plan as a whole. Ensure that the technology solutions and advancements are discussed in all areas of an organisation to consider potential value which has not been realised. Do not be afraid to question the status quo, it is from this disruption that true innovation can develop.

Joscelyn Lester is a researcher at Berwick Partners specialising in senior appointments across the Not-for-Profit Sector

If you would be interested in attending future events or finding out more about our Not-for-Profit offering contact William Pringle

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